I was sitting in an open-air restaurant in Kuala Lumpur waiting for my food.
I was sharing a table with an elderly Australian couple.
Naturally we got chatting.
We did the usually bit of piss taking about the cricket.
I asked them how long they were staying in KL.
They said they were there for a few months.
I asked how come.
They said their son was on trial for smuggling drugs.
I said I thought smuggling drugs meant the death penalty.
They said it did.
He’d tried to get a kilo of marijuana, a kilo of ketamine, and a kilo of cocaine into Malaysia.
Their son was on trial on three separate counts.
If found guilty on any of them he would be executed.
The parents were staying in KL to pay whatever lawyers, whatever bribes, they could find to pay.
Anything to try to get their son off.
In the space of about a minute the conversation had gone from light-hearted chitchat to the worst thing you can imagine.
I didn’t know what to say.
And I remembered something Murray Chick told me about his time at Warwick University.
Warwick is a really good university, very competitive.
He said every year one of the students committed suicide.
They couldn’t take the pressure.
And he said now imagine you were the parents of that student.
Imagine you’d been part of applying the pressure.
The pressure to get the best A level results.
The pressure to make sure you got the best degree.
Now imagine it was your son that died.
And imagine you had the choice to do it again differently.
Would you prefer to have a live son who failed at university and ended up a bus driver?
Which would you choose?
It’s obvious, alive is better than dead in any circumstances.
But we forget that choice.
We forget to compare ourselves with the worst situation.
We only ever compare ourselves with the best.
We only ever think of what we haven’t got.
How much better off we could be if we tried harder, if we were luckier, if we could do better, if we had more.
Which is why most people are unhappy.
Because all there ever is, is context.
Everything only ever exists in comparison to something else.
And we choose whatever we compare ourselves too.
And in doing that we can choose to make ourselves miserable or happy.
And the really dumb thing is that even though we know that, we can’t stop doing it.
Even though we know context is everything.
The bad news is we can’t stop living in context.
The good news is we can get upstream and choose the context.
We can choose to make anything good, or we can make it bad.
Four hundred years ago Shakespeare said “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so’.